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Chiseled out of Illinois’ far northern region, Rock Cut State Park is a hiker’s paradise with more than 3,000 acres of rolling plains and two lakes in between. Nestled in the city of Loves Park, Rock Cut is home to some of the best mountain biking in Northeastern Illinois, offering 23 miles of dirt and sand terrain trails.

The trail system at Rock Cut State Park offers 40 miles of hiking and biking trails.

The trail system at Rock Cut State Park offers 40 miles of hiking and biking trails.

The Main Trail runs around Pierce Lake, which is accessible year round for activities like fishing and ice-skating. A second loop journeys through dense trees and hills for a change in scenery. Hiking and equestrian trails are also prevalent throughout the area.

Rock Cut State Park offers a variety of outdoor recreation activities for every season.

Rock Cut State Park offers a variety of outdoor recreation activities for every season.

Trail activities are divided into summer and winter seasons to ensure outdoor adventurers can get their fix year-round.  Mountain biking and equestrian trails are open from April until the end of November, and cross-country skiing and snowshoe hiking activities are available as conditions permit in the winter.

Spend a weekend exploring the many wonders of Rock Cut and unwind at night in a cozy cabin or nearby luxurious hotel. The opportunities for adventure are endless! For more outdoor adventure ideas, visit OffRoadIllinois.com.

— The Illinois Office of Tourism

Fall Color Nov. 14

Snow may have dusted the state of Illinois this week, but fall colors in brilliant hues are still visible throughout all four regions. Don’t miss out on one of the last weekends to experience Midwest autumn foliage at its finest. The White Oak, the statuesque state tree of Illinois, is known for producing a broad-spectrum of striking rosy-red leaves in the later fall months. These leaves feature shades of red ranging from brick to a deep scarlet. Oak trees, which display distinctive russet leaves, also change color later in the season, providing a colorful landscape when other trees have become bare. Remember to check our blog each week throughout the season for updates on where to see the best colors. Here’s what you can expect to see this week:

Don’t miss the chance to see this year’s vibrant fall foliage before it’s too late.

Don’t miss the chance to see this year’s vibrant fall foliage before it’s too late.

Trails to Adventure

Red maple trees are prevalent in southern Illinois and while staying true to the name the tree also shows off a variety of hues from yellow and orange to purple. Fiery red maples are a must-see during the fall season because of their bright appearance and appealing rouge saturation.

Land of Lincoln

The eastern border of Illinois including cities such as Danville and Paris is home to a large distribution of black gum trees also known as sour gum trees. Fall is the perfect time to see these trees’ explosion of color through its foliage. When seen in full sunlight sour gum trees burst with bright red leaves as well as some yellow, orange and purple tones to present the full fall color spectrum.

Chicago & Beyond

Beech and birch trees can be found in the Lake and McHenry counties of this region sporting sunny yellow shades. The white bark of the birch tree is offset by the vibrant gold and yellow coloration. American beech trees produce fall colors of yellow-orange to golden-brown and their stubborn leaves persist well into the winter season.

The Chicago & Beyond region continues to burst with fall color

The Chicago & Beyond region continues to burst with fall color

Great Rivers Country

The flowering dogwood is a favorite fall tree for humans and animals alike. Despite being a small tree in size, it has the ability to set the landscape ablaze with bright red to mauve leaves. This tree also produces equally colorful crimson berries, popular among birds and squirrels. While driving alongside the Mississippi River spectators are sure to see these colorful leaves on display.

-The Illinois Office of Tourism

Andrew Moyer, Chief of Staff, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, recently explored the Chicago & Beyond  region by bike during a two-day, 100 mile ride. Read about his Off-Road Illinois adventure.

I like to bike.  I grew up in Wisconsin taking family rides along scenic paths, and loving every minute of it.  When I moved to Washington, DC, I discovered a network of trails that provided infinite ways to see the sights of the nation’s Capital.  In 2011, I moved to Illinois and discovered Chicago’s Lakefront Trail.  Now, I would argue that the Lakefront Trail is one of the most scenic city trails in the United States, changing from the hustle and bustle of Navy Pier and the Oak Street to Belmont corridor to the solitude and sweeping city views from Promontory Point. However, I didn’t explore much beyond my rides back and forth along Lake Michigan, until I recently found out how much I was missing!

DAY 1

In September, I had the opportunity to expand my Illinois biking horizons in Kane and McHenry Counties, experiencing first-hand how many incredible biking options exist right in my own back yard. I started out on the Fox River Trail, a fantastic mostly paved trail along the Fox River in Chicago’s Northwest Suburbs.  My guide for the day was Tony Bless (his wife, Kim, is the director of the Elgin Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and fantastic advocate for the region).  We started our journey in downtown Elgin and headed south along the eastern bank of the river.

Other than a few sections on city streets, the paved path immersed us in the tranquil beauty of so many parks and forest preserves that I lost count.  The Festival Park in Elgin, Fox River Bluff Forest Preserve  in South Elgin and Norris Woods Nature Preserve are only a few of the highlights.  Along the way, I was struck by how many other activities and experiences we could take advantage of along the trail, including several disk golf courses, island parks, playgrounds, kayak/canoe put-ins and a manmade whitewater course. Though it was only my first ride along the trail, it was immediately clear that communities along the Fox River have made a commitment to integrating the trail into their infrastructure planning with easy access and several trail specific bridges along the way.

A little over 20 miles later we arrived in Aurora, had a quick snack and turned around for the return trip. The ride back was just as nice, but with a headwind that made us work a bit harder.  Passing the Fabyan Windmill in Geneva should have tipped us off to the possibility of wind along the river!

Back in Elgin, Tony and I rejoined Kim and Jen Hoelzle, Illinois’ Tourism Director, to celebrate a beautiful day of biking with a great meal at Buckinghams Steakhouse located in the Grand Victoria Casino in downtown Elgin.

DAY 2

On our second day, I woke up a little sore, but ready for another great day in the saddle in McHenry County this time.  I was lucky to be joined by McHenry County Convention and Visitors Bureau board member Josh Arnow and Randy Springer, both from The Bike Haven, a local bike shop in McHenry.  I traded in my road bike for a mountain bike and we set out north for the crushed gravel of the Prairie Path.

Our first stop was Anderson’s Candy Shop in Richmond. Anderson’s has been in business for almost 100 years and you can see why when you try their chocolate!  After Richmond, the Prairie Path took us north up to the Wisconsin border, and then west to Hebron, home of the Green Giants and their giant basketball water tower.  Hebron won the 1952 Illinois High School Boys Basketball Championship – the smallest school to ever win the state championship and the first live telecast of a high school sporting event in Illinois…(and dare I say the real Hoosiers?!).

From Hebron we continued on to Royal Oak Farm Orchard.  Royal Oak not only has 29 different varieties of apples to pick, but they also have a petting zoo, campfire circles, apple tree maze and incredible apple-inspired food.  I chose a fantastic turkey dinner meal for lunch, but I really wish I didn’t have to bike back right after eating! I wanted to curl up under one of the apple trees and sleep off my hearty meal. Alas, we had no choice but to leave apple nirvana and get back on our bikes.  The ride back may have been a little bit slower, but just as beautiful.  We rode through Glacial Park, a jewel of the McHenry County Conservation District, and stopped at the Lost Valley Visitor Center .This is a place I definitely will be coming back to for the kayaking or cross-country skiing.

Once we returned to Bike Haven, we made a quick switch back to road bikes and tried to work the rest of our lunch off with a quick ride down to Crystal Lake along a paved portion of the Prairie Path.  A friendly note, be ready for the hills in Sternes Woods Park!  If you haven’t been to Crystal Lake, it’s the perfect destination for a quick day trip or weekend getaway.  The downtown area is easily accessible from the Metra line that drops off right in the middle of town at Depot Park, which is surrounded by a lively small town center including some fun shops, good food and a performing arts center.

After 100 miles in two days I can say I enjoyed my journey fully and, though a little sore, was extremely impressed by the quality of the trails in this part of Illinois. I’m itching to get back on the bike to discover even more of this beautiful state. And, a new feature at EnjoyIllinois.com can help me do just that. The new Off-Road Illinois website feature can help you plan your journey and uncover all there is to experience on an Illinois bike excursion. You can also use the site to plan incredible hiking and kayaking experience, just to name a few. Be sure to check it out before your next excursion at OffRoadIllinois.com.

Remember, you’re never lost when you’re on a bike!  So what are you waiting for, get out and enjoy all the trails and miles Illinois has to offer and make magnificent stuff happen (#ILMagStuff).

– Andrew Moyer, Chief of Staff, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity

Want to follow in Andrew’s footsteps? Travel the below map!

Fall Color Feature

Escape on a fall getaway and explore Illinois while fall foliage in its prime. The state’s crisp autumn air is ideal for hiking through state parks bursting with a multitude of colors, such as the Mississippi  Palisades State Park in Great Rivers Country. After spending a day exploring the great outdoors, unwind at a bed and breakfast and wake up to witness the majesty of fall color right outside your window. With fall color in every region of the state, the opportunities to see magnificent fall views area endless. Remember to check our blog each week throughout the season for updates on where to see the best colors.

Great Rivers Country

Places like Galena, which is laden with Oak trees will still be showing off hues of bronze and cinnamon. Mississippi Palisades State Park is afire with fall hues of yellow, red and brown. The park has a number of lookout areas to take in the panoramic views of flaming colors now in effect.

Vibrant reds explode across the landscape of Galena

Vibrant reds explode across the landscape of Galena

Chicago & Beyond

City dwellers as well as suburbanites can enjoy a variety of fall colors bursting not far from home. Within city limits visitors will find everything from maples and oaks to hawthorns and red buds. The Morton Arboretum is a must-see for all nature lovers during the fall season. This 1,700-acre outdoor museum featuring trees and plants from more than 40 different countries is a visual display of natural beauty.

Land of Lincoln

Washington Park located in Springfield, Illinois is home to a large concentration of maple trees that have transitioned from yellows and oranges to vibrant reds, making the forest glow in the bright sunshine of autumn days.

Leaves are now showing orange and red hues

Leaves are now showing orange and red hues

Trails to Adventure

Southern Illinois is certainly the most vibrant during this point in the season with deep reds and goldenrod yellows prevailing. Very little green vegetation still remains. The few trees which have not reached their peak, still display very bright and well developed colors and will reach peak very quickly. For those leaf peepers who have put off the experience until now take the drive to catch the last of the state’s leaves reflect Mother Nature’s paintbrush.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

For outdoor enthusiasts always searching for ways to push the envelope and test stamina, look no further than the 62-mile Mississippi River Trail. The trail begins in Rock Island’s Sunset Park and hugs the banks of the Mississippi, offering trail-goers one-of-a-kind river views.

The Mississippi River Trail is a popular route for cyclists that can accommodate all types of riders

The Mississippi River Trail is a popular route for cyclists that can accommodate all types of riders

The asphalt trail moves through parks and the downtown business districts of several Illinois cities, including Moline, Cordova and Savanna. Be sure to have your camera in tow as this uninterrupted trail provides picturesque views from beginning to end.

The trail is perfect for cyclists, runners, and hikers. Spend time hopping from town to town and explore the local cuisine, wineries and destinations along the way. The trail length makes it the perfect weekend escape. For more outdoor adventure ideas, visit OffRoadIllinois.com.

— The Illinois Office of Tourism